Transmission Shudder – How To Stop It From Shaking?

by Conner Mckay

Have you been hearing lately some weird noise and vibrations coming from the transmission? Something that feels like a shudder? That may sound worrying, but you should not jump to conclusions too quickly. Maybe it’s just a transmission shudder.

Transmission shudders are a relatively common thing that drivers face each day. Some of them feel it less and some of them more. Depending on the type of transmission you have. You are going to experience this issue sometime in your day-to-day drive. Especially if you are driving a torque converter automatic.

But what are the causes of the transmission shudder? Well, it is not clearly known what causes the car to shudder. But we’ve put a great effort into researching to find the most common fixes that help in resolving this issue. We are going to discuss the solutions later in this article, but first, let’s learn something about transmissions.

Most of the country is driving on automatic transmissions and these are known to develop some issues as they age. Because of this, we are also going to dive deep into transmission-related problematics and we are going to answer some frequently asked questions. Since a lot of people have trouble with their transmissions.

So, if you want to learn more about transmission shudders, what causes them, and how to fix them, please follow along till the end.

What Is A Transmission

In simple words, the transmission is the gearbox of the vehicle. Transmissions are delivering the torque of the engine in a smooth manner with the help of the gears that are inside of it.

The transmission regulates the amount of power that needs to be put to wheels. And this helps you to get a proper grip on the tarmac.

Transmissions help in reducing fuel consumption and avoid engine overload. Increasing the longevity of the engine in the process. The transmission’s goal is to use the energy that the engine produces, efficiently. The transmission engages when needed and disengages when you need to stop.

If there weren’t transmissions, you would need to turn off your engine every time before you come to a stop. Because the engine would still be spinning the crankshaft. That’s why transmissions are useful and use the energy of the engine in an intelligent way.

Modern transmissions have kept getting better and better with time. Now transmissions come with 8 and even 10 speeds. This helps in delivering the torque more efficiently and reduces fuel consumption.

But with the refinement, there are also some downsides. There are too many mechanical moving parts inside the transmissions, and they are known to cause transmission shudder. Small imperfections or metal particles may ruin the smooth work of the transmission.

In order for you to protect your engine transmission in the long run. You need to properly and regularly service it. In order to avoid issues with it. Some of these issues we are going to discuss later in the article.

Manual vs Automatic

In every combustion vehicle, there are often two types of transmissions that can be installed. Manual and automatic. They work pretty much the same. But the main difference is that in manual transmission vehicles, the driver is going through the gears manually.

He does this by engaging and disengaging the clutch with every shift. Because of this, manual transmissions may be tricky for beginner drivers and they may become hard to learn. Because the driver needs a lot of practice to get the shifts right. On the manual transmission, the work is done by the person, and because of this, the fuel economy is often worse. The shifts are never perfect and depending on the driver and style of driving fuel efficiency may vary.

With the automatic transmissions, on the other hand, everything is done by the transmission itself. It goes through the gears based on the input you give on the gas pedal. Every gear is changed at the right RPM, so no energy is lost. Modern automatics are very refined machines and they deliver perfect and snappy shifts every time.

Because of this, manual transmissions are getting less and less popular and the attention goes to automatics. Automatic transmissions are also known for some issues like transmission shudder and premature gearbox failures. Especially if they are not maintained properly and are overloaded.

How Do Transmissions Work

It doesn’t matter if you drive a manual or an automatic, all car transmissions work in pretty much the same manner. The main difference is that with the manual the driver engages and disengages the transmission with the clutch. In automatics, on the other hand, everything is done by the transmission itself.

In the manual transmission, the driver presses the clutch and that causes the transmission to disengage from the engine. Then they take the gear lever and shift the car into an upper gear and then the car goes a gear up when the driver releases the clutch. And the procedure is the same for all of the gears.

Transmission Shudder

In the automatics, between the transmission and the engine is the flywheel, flexplate, and torque converter. The flywheel is a mechanical device created for the purpose of efficiently passing rotational energy. The flywheel along with the flex plate is doing all the hard work in engaging, and disengaging between the shifts.

Compared to manuals, the automatics are doing all of this automatically based on the driver’s input on the gas pedal. This also makes the flywheel and flexplates last for a very long time. Longer than manuals, but they also require extensive maintenance such as changing fluids regularly and doing all the necessary things for the car to run properly with no hiccups.

Because of their high sensitivity concerning maintenance, automatic transmissions may face issues such as transmission shudder, and sometimes the torque converters may go bad. We will learn more about that in the next chapter.

Transmission Shudder

The transmission shudder is also known as a torque converter shudder. This refers to the instance when a transmission starts to noticeably shake and cause vibrations. These vibrations can be felt in the cabin and may cause an unpleasant feeling. You as a driver will probably be thinking that something really wrong is going on inside the transmission. But that isn’t the case in reality.

The transmission shudder only occurs when you are shifting your car in overdrive (or a higher gear). Or when you approach and drive up an inclined surface while keeping your car in overdrive in the process.

If this happens to you, it is important not to panic. There are some logical explanations for this situation. Many people even managed to fix their cars by following these simple steps that we are going to discuss later in this article. So, don’t be discouraged by this. Everything has a fix.

What Causes Transmission Shudder

Here are some of the most common underlying causes for transmission shudder…

Transmission Shudder Causes #1: Contaminated Transmission Fluid

One of the biggest reasons why you get transmission shudder is driving your car with contaminated transmission oil. This is the primary culprit for this unpleasant issue.

This happens when the transmission fluid becomes dirty. For example, a fluid that has not changed since the car was purchased. The fluid gets filled up with metal-shaving particles over time and causes issues.

The oil then may thicken up and cause the transmission not to be able to build up pressure in the transmission lines. And this as a consequence is going to prevent the proper pressure contact from being made between the transmission plates when they are engaged. And as a result, the transmission may shudder.

Transmission Shudder Causes #2: Running Low On Transmission Fluid

Another reason why the transmission may shudder is running your transmission low on transmission fluid or ATF as it is called. You should never do that because the transmission needs to have enough fluid every time when it engages.

Low fluid may cause metal shavings to start to appear. Then the parts inside of the transmission will prematurely wear and cause defects. Then your transmission will not shift gears properly and it may bug down on you. And this may happen when you need your car the most.

Changing your transmission fluid is the key in order to keep it safe from these issues.

Transmission Shudder Causes #3: Bad Torque Converter

Another reason that causes the transmission shudder may be the torque converter. The torque converter is right between the transmission and the engine. These converters are known to fail and cause shuddering. If the car is also slipping gears when you put it into drive, and suddenly starts to shudder most probably the torque converter went bad.

Other symptoms of a torque converter problem may be an overheating transmission. If your transmission overheats regularly and acts funny when trying to change gears. This is a serious issue, and you may probably need to change the torque converter. If you want your transmission to change gears properly again.

Transmission Shudder Causes #4: Worn Clutch

The clutch in an automatic transmission is essential for shifting gears. If the clutch plates are worn out, they won’t be able to engage or disengage properly. This can lead to the transmission shuddering when changing gears.

If you notice a burning smell coming from your transmission, it’s a sign that the clutch is overheating and wearing out. If this issue is not addressed, it can lead to complete transmission failure. It’s important to get your clutch inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #5: Damaged Transmission Mounts

The transmission mounts hold the transmission in place and absorb vibrations and shocks. If these mounts are damaged or worn out, they won’t be able to absorb the vibrations properly. This can lead to the transmission shuddering when shifting gears.

If you hear a clunking noise when you put your car in gear or when you accelerate or decelerate, it’s a sign that your transmission mounts may be damaged. It’s important to get your transmission mounts inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #6: Faulty Transmission Solenoid

The transmission solenoid controls the flow of transmission fluid in the transmission. If it’s faulty, it can cause irregular fluid flow, leading to transmission shuddering. Other symptoms of a faulty transmission solenoid include erratic shifting, delayed shifting, or the transmission not shifting at all. It’s important to get the transmission solenoid inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #7: Damaged Driveshaft

The driveshaft is the component that transmits torque and rotation from the engine to the wheels. If it’s damaged, it can cause the transmission to shudder. Other symptoms of a damaged driveshaft include vibrations at high speeds, clunking noises when accelerating or decelerating, and a shuddering sensation when turning. It’s important to get your driveshaft inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #8: Worn Out Transmission Bands

Transmission bands help the transmission to engage and disengage the gears. If they are worn out, it can cause the transmission to shudder when changing gears. Other symptoms of worn-out transmission bands include slipping gears and a whining noise when you accelerate. It’s important to get your transmission bands inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #9: Old or Incorrect Transmission Fluid

Using old or incorrect transmission fluid can cause the transmission to shudder. Over time, transmission fluid breaks down and loses its effectiveness. If the fluid is not changed regularly, it can lead to transmission shuddering. Additionally, using the wrong type of transmission fluid can also cause shuddering. It’s important to use the correct type of transmission fluid and to change it regularly.

Transmission Shudder Causes #10: Damaged Torque Converter Clutch

The torque converter clutch locks the torque converter to the engine’s flywheel. If it’s damaged, it can cause the transmission to shudder. Other symptoms of a damaged torque converter clutch include a shuddering sensation when accelerating from a stop, poor fuel economy, and a check engine light. It’s important to get your torque converter clutch inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #11: Transmission System Overload

When the transmission is overloaded, it can cause the transmission to shudder. This can happen if you’re towing a heavy load or driving up a steep hill. It’s important to avoid overloading your vehicle and to be mindful of the load you’re carrying. If you notice the transmission shuddering during heavy loads, it’s a sign that your transmission is being overloaded.

Transmission Shudder Causes #12: Damaged Gearbox Bearings

Bearings in the gearbox allow the gears to rotate smoothly. If these bearings are damaged or worn out, they can cause the gears to grind against each other, leading to a transmission shudder. Other symptoms of damaged gearbox bearings include a whining noise when accelerating and difficulty shifting gears. It’s important to get your gearbox bearings inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #13: Worn Out Clutch Plates

In manual transmissions, the clutch plates engage and disengage the gears. If these plates are worn out, they won’t be able to engage or disengage properly, leading to a transmission shudder. Other symptoms of worn-out clutch plates include a burning smell and difficulty shifting gears. It’s important to get your clutch plates inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #14: Malfunctioning Transmission Control Module

The TCM is the brain of the transmission. It controls the shifting of gears and the operation of the torque converter. If it’s malfunctioning, it can cause erratic shifting, leading to a transmission shudder. Other symptoms of a malfunctioning TCM include the transmission getting stuck in one gear, delayed shifting, and a check engine light. It’s important to get your TCM inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #15: Axle Shaft Damage

The axle shafts transfer power from the transmission to the wheels. If they are damaged, it can cause the transmission to shudder. Other symptoms of damaged axle shafts include a clicking noise when turning and vibrations while driving. It’s important to get your axle shafts inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transmission Shudder Causes #16: Uneven Tire Pressure

Uneven tire pressure can cause an imbalance in the vehicle, leading to a transmission shudder. It’s important to regularly check your tire pressure and to make sure they are all at the recommended pressure level.

Transmission Shudder Causes #17: Worn or Damaged CV Joints

CV joints allow the wheels to move up and down and the vehicle to turn left and right. If they are worn or damaged, it can cause the transmission to shudder. Other symptoms of worn or damaged CV joints include a clicking noise when turning and vibrations while driving. It’s important to get your CV joints inspected and replaced if necessary.

Remember to regularly service your vehicle and pay attention to any unusual signs or symptoms. Early detection and repair can help prevent more serious damage and costly repairs.

In conclusion, transmission shudder can be caused by various factors. It’s important to regularly maintain your transmission and to get it inspected if you notice any symptoms of shuddering. Regular maintenance can help prevent transmission shudder and prolong the life of your transmission.

Transmission Shudder Fix

There are a couple of fixes for this issue and we are going to list them. Some of them are easy to do and do not require mechanical knowledge. But some are harder and require mechanical knowledge and equipment to be properly performed.

Transmission Flush

The easiest way to fix this issue is to simply flush your old transmission fluid and replace it with a brand-new factory-recommended fluid. After you flush it. The contaminated fluid will be removed and your transmission should be in working order in no time.

If you do not feel any changes after you flush the fluid, it is a good idea to flush it again. Because you never know. Something may have stuck on there in the transmission lines and need another flush to be fully cleaned.

Transmission Fluid Pan Gasket Replacement

Another case of this issue may be, is if you are running low on transmission fluid. If that’s the case you just need to fill it up again to the proper level. If it continues to lose fluid it means that the transmission pan is leaking.

How you will solve this is by flushing the fluid from the transmission, and then checking the oil pan for leaks. If it leaks and it will probably leak around the gasket seal since there isn’t any other place to go. This means that your transmission oil pan gasket is bad and you need to swap it out. Also, the pan may be busted if you run over something. In that case, you will need a new pan to fix the issue.

Changing The Gasket

The gasket is an easy fix, you just need to unbolt the screws and remove the pan. In the pan, you may notice some metal shavings. These shavings are probably causing your transmission to shudder. Clean them off with a paper towel and then scrape the old gasket out of the pan. This is important because if you do not scrape the old gasket, the new gasket will not stick.

After you scraped the gasket. Then apply the new gasket and carefully screw the bolts back in one by one. After you are done with the job then go and pour some new transmission fluid. Let your car run, and check on the transmission fluid level regularly in order not to overfill (if so, you need to learn how to remove too much transmission fluid). Because if you overfill it, it may cause some issues. After you are done with this job then you are ready to go. No more transmission shudder and unpleasant noise.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty you may also take your car to the local shop. They will take care of the issue for you and will flush these fluids. The downside with that is that you will have to pay. And if you have the right equipment at home and the will to do this work. Maybe it’s best to do it by yourself because it’s not a big issue.

Just remember that you need proper jacks in order to support the car. You do not want the vehicle to fall down on top of you. So, maybe the best idea is to take the car somewhere where they have the right tooling and equipment to do this job the right way.

Torque Converter Shudder

If it’s the torque converter that is the culprit of these issues, then it’s the best idea to replace it with a new one. Torque converters are not that expensive and cost around $200 to $500. If you do this job DIY. It’s going to cost you around $350, but if you get somebody else to take care of it, then it’s probably going to cost you from $600 to $1000 to do this job.

This job is labor-intensive and asks a lot of man-hours, and that’s why it may come to a steep price. The transmission needs to come off. Then to remove the old converter and put everything back together. A big job. But after you are done, you will be carefree for thousands of miles.

Which Transmissions Are Most Affected By The Shudder

This issue prevails only in cars with torque converter automatic transmissions. If you are running any other kind of transmission. You shouldn’t worry much about it.

These torque converter transmissions also are one of the bestselling automatics out there. They are popular because they offer great reliability and can handle a huge amount of torque. Many of the big brand pickup trucks run them. And they are one of the best performers.

These transmissions are also included in some luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes. There was a slight shift to DSG transmissions in the car industry. But with the recent advancements in technology, the torque converter alternatives have become more hi-tech and now are offering the same fast-shifting performance. In addition, the big reliability that comes along with them. If you want a good transmission, the torque converter automatic is the right option to go for.

The transmission shudders are a rare occurrence and only happen to cars that have higher miles. So, you shouldn’t worry about it.

Do Manual Transmissions Suffer From Transmission Shudder

Manual transmissions do not suffer from this issue. Since all of the work is done by the driver. They are simpler in design and are not as refined as automatic transmissions, in which you have dozens of transmission lines. In which fluid is passed to deliver proper shifts each time.

This complexity makes the automatic transmissions more prone to problems and they need proper care, to keep them running. A regular visit to the workshop will prevent future headaches. And if you are thinking that you are mechanically inclined you can watch out for your transmission fluid every once in a while. Just to be on the safe side.

If you are driving a manual, it doesn’t mean that you can run the same fluid forever. As time goes the fluid thickens and this may cause premature wear to the gears. Since there isn’t much lubrication when the car is shifting gears. So, changing your gearbox oil every 100,000 miles or less is a good idea to do. If you own a manual.

How To Prevent This From Happening

If you are reading this and your transmission works properly, good for you. Now we are going to share some useful tips, on how you may prevent this from happening in your car or truck. Thinking upfront may save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run. And will also keep your car safe on the road.

Transmission Shudder Prevention Tips #1: Regular Transmission Service

The number one thing to pay attention to is to do regular maintenance on your transmission. Not only on the transmission but also on every other part that wears. Belts, pulleys, oil, tires. Everything needs to be changed on time. Because that’s what the factory said. And given all of these parts a timeframe or mileage in which they are good to work. And after that, they go bad and cause many issues.

Transmission Shudder

So, it’s the case with the transmission. It needs proper and fresh fluid to keep it running. Once in a while, the pan should also come off. To help prevent these shavings that come on the bottom. To go up inside the transmission and cause some problems.

Transmission Shudder Prevention Tips #2: Using Quality Transmission Fluid

When you are servicing the transmission, you need to go for the top-quality fluid. Good transmission fluid is always red in color. This fluid is also known as ATF. So, when buying a new transmission fluid to fill up, it’s the best idea is to go for the best brands. Because you do not change your fluid every day.

Transmission Shudder Prevention Tips #3: Driving The Car On Low Load

Driving the car on a low load is also going to help you. If you are running a small sedan and you load it up with cargo. It means that your transmission will suffer. With every press on the gas pedal, the load goes to the transmission. And that’s a lot of loads, to be honest. Also, if you are driving a truck and you are running a small eco-boost engine on it, don’t overload it.

These trucks have factory-recommended numbers, that they are the maximum load that they can carry. If you load them too much, the transmission will be overloaded and fail in the worst case. It may also cause it to slip, and will not shift properly. So, take this in mind.

Transmission Shudder Facts:

  1. Transmission shudders are a common type of transmission issue experienced by many vehicle owners.
  2. Transmission shudders are actually a minor issue that can be easily fixed.
  3. A shuddering transmission refers to when a vehicle’s transmission noticeably shakes or trembles convulsively.
  4. Transmission shudders often occur when shifting into overdrive or driving up an inclined surface while already in overdrive.
  5. Contaminated transmission fluid is the primary cause of a shuddering transmission.
  6. Dirty and contaminated transmission fluid prevents proper pressure contact between transmission plates when they are applied.
  7. Low transmission fluid levels can also cause transmission shudders.
  8. Fixing a shuddering transmission is often as simple as getting a transmission flush to replace the contaminated transmission fluid with clean fluid.
  9. Low transmission fluid may be caused by a leak that needs to be addressed and repaired.
  10. Proper vehicle maintenance, such as getting regular transmission fluid changes, can prevent a shuddering transmission from occurring.

Transmission Shudder: In Conclusion…

Although the transmission shudder can be a headache when you are driving, it’s not a big issue overall. Your transmission is not failing and everything is ok with it. It means just that the lines that carry the transmission fluid are getting clogged up with debris. This debris may be from metal shavings that are floating in the fluid, and also from old transmission oil.

The transmission oil needs to be changed regularly if you want your car to serve you for a long time. So, change it on the schedule, and keep your car safe on the road. Also, your pocket will benefit in the long run. Just don’t wait to go wrong completely. Because then you may need to spend thousands of dollars in order to replace it.

As always, thanks for reading, and drive safely on the road.

Transmission Shudder: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re still curious to learn more about a transmission shudder, our FAQs here might help…

How Much Is A Torque Converter

A torque converter is among the most crucial component in an automatic transmission. When you’re experiencing a transmission shudder, it might be an early sign that your car’s torque converter is on its way out, and requires a replacement. Torque converters aren’t all too expensive by themselves. You can find a good yet suitable torque converter for your car for around $200 to $500. However, a torque converter replacement cost ramps up quickly once you take into account the labor required. As replacing a torque converter requires first detaching the transmission from your engine, it takes a lot of time and energy. Most workshops will raise the final tally to between $600 to $1,000 just to cover the labor charges needed to replace a torque converter.

How To Test Torque Converter

There are ways to test a torque converter and ensure that it’s working without needing to first disassemble the gearbox. One that you can apply is called the stall-speed test. First off, just make sure that your transmission is capable of running this test. A lot of transmissions can suffer damage while conducting this test. On top of that, make sure that your car is parked up and that you’ve put some chocks on the wheels. To begin the test, press the brake pedal all the way down, start your engine, and shift into Drive. Don’t let go of the brake pedal just yet. Now, press the gas pedal to the floor for 2 to 3 seconds (not any longer, as it could blow your gearbox). Finally, check the max RPM readings – if this stall-speed reading is lower than your torque converter specs, then it’s a sign that it’s failing.

How To Tell If A Torque Converter Is Bad

When a torque converter is failing, it would exhibit a few common symptoms. The most obvious ones are how the transmission would react while shifting gears. It might start to slip gears, or would refuse to shift into drive, park, reverse, or any other gear. The inability to smoothly and reliably change gears is one tell-tale sign of a failing torque converter. In addition, you might also notice how your transmission is overheating, or if you’re hearing some odd sounds coming from it. Lastly, all of these would impact the driveability of your car. For instance, you might experience rough and hesitating acceleration, as well as a rough and shaky idle.

What Causes A Torque Converter To Fail

A torque converter is made to be immensely durable, but it can fail prematurely under select circumstances. One possible cause is due to bad bearings within the transmission. These function to reduce friction between the many internal moving parts of a torque converter. Therefore, when the bearings fail, excessive amounts of friction would handily wear the torque converter down. Beyond that, we also have to look at the transmission fluid, as the torque converter relies on it heavily to operate. Using contaminated and dirty transmission fluids, as well as using the wrong type of fluids for your car, will force the torque converter to not work as well as it should. Other than that, it may just be that your torque converter is nearing the end of the line, and the internal components are gradually wearing out.

What Happens When A Torque Converter Goes Bad

When your torque converter goes bad, the after-effects are immediately noticed. You’ll then start to experience a myriad of shifting problems, performance deficiencies, and other driveability concerns. These include gear slippage or the inability of the transmission to shift gears properly. If that occurs, you’ll have to look into replacing the torque converter right away or at least get it checked. Otherwise, driving continuously with a faulty torque converter is sure to invite even more complex issues to appear. For instance, it would cause further degradation to the rest of the transmission, which would’ve otherwise been fine. Additional wear and tear will be forced onto the rest of your car, as well. Moreover, there are other consequences, such as constant overheating, and more.

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